Traktor vs Vinyl & CDJ – Auto vs Stick by Dave Garnish
For the past twenty years I’ve noticed that the guy (and sometimes girl) playing the music in the club or the radio – the DJ – has had a varying amount of respect thrown his (or her) way. Chalk it up to different styles of music being popular, but today I can safely say that DJs on the international music scene are more commercially respected than any other time I can remember. In my opinion, and this is an objective one since I started out in the music business as a DJ, the art of playing music is actually easy in comparison to producing music.
I suppose you can look at DJing as a good introduction to production – because the more you play and mix tracks together, you learn about beats, bars, arrangement, dissonance, tempo, mood, dynamics (not the amplitude range type, but musical dynamics over a longer period of time), and beat matching. These days things are made easier than they were when I got started with vinyl and Technics (actually Citronic first) turntables by the advance of software such as Traktor by Native Instruments which takes care of the “boring bit” (beat matching) automatically. If you are using vinyl or CDs in older CD decks, you have to go manual and match the beats yourself. Whereas, if you use Traktor, Serato Itch, or some of the newer CD decks with the sync button pressed, you are essentially driving with automatic transmission.
Seriously, the car analogy is actually a good one to use – because with Traktor you are still steering, reversing around a corner, parallel parking and driving fast without hitting anyone! In fact, I would say that ‘beat matching’ is a skill that anyone can master with practice. Literally anyone, it’s in time or it’s not in time. Obviously, this is a skill that takes time to master, but so does driving a stick-shift gear on a manual transmission car. Not everyone drives a stick-shift car, but before automatic transmission cars were available, pretty much everyone knew how to work a clutch. Today, many people have created successful DJ careers without “beat-matching” and allowing the software to do it for them. This allows them to focus on more interesting aspects in their mixing.
When I first signed to Universal Music in London, I was 24 years old so I bought a flashy BMW car as one would. I remember my mate (an engineer and a tech genius who installed my studio and later became one of my best friends) got in my car and asked me about the transmission in the car as he didn’t (and still doesn’t) drive. I remember saying to him “I can drive manual but life’s too short to be pissing around changing gear yourself when a machine can do it for you.” That’s always tickled him and stuck with us for all these years, and coincidentally, this is the same old friend – Alex Morris who kindly loaned me a Traktor S4 while I was figuring out the best options before my mission to teach the celebrity client in LA we’ve all been hearing about, as I was well out of the loop!
There’s much more to DJing than there is to driving stick, and more and more top DJs are moving over to automatic. Now that I am spending more time in Southern California, I play the odd gig out for fun, although I never really enjoy it when I do DJ these days, but never remember when I am asked! I take a Traktor S4 with me. Do I want to piss about keeping the beats in time manually? Of course not! Like I said nearly 15 years ago, “Life’s too short for that!” I would rather have a more in-depth play around with the FX, think more about what to play next, do a few more teaser mixes, or most likely in my case these days, enjoy the party a bit more. That said, since we stopped doing BlaH, I no longer consider myself a ‘serious’ underground DJ, like some of our instructors, but now that all the CD players have a beat matching facility, do you think that in ten years from now DJs will be switching it off? Of course not, and in 10 years beat-matching will probably be a thing of the past. That’s a tough call, but I think I am right. I have to say that on the odd occasion I am in a club or paying attention to what a DJ is playing, I do feel like some of the romance has gone if I know they’re driving auto. I would prefer it if they were beat matching, but I’m not you’re average punter and I am an old fart. I know some of the older guys, you know, the ones who never have produced, the first gen. who have embraced Traktor and the sync button – even less to do for the all that money! But if you’re a serious DJ and under 50, you have to do more to differentiate yourself from celebrity DJs you’re now scrapping with to get your spot as high up that pecking order ladder as you can, not only by being in front of a DAW producing tracks, but in the DJ booth too, and I don’t mean just match the beats manually!